Book review: Steak

By Stefan Chomka

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Tim Haywards new cookbook steak the whole story

Related tags Steak Cookbook Meat

Tim Hayward's meaty new cookbook is a passionate and enthusiastic exploration of the world of steak.

Steak​, or to give the book its full title, Steak The Whole Story​, is an ambitious undertaking given the almost mythical status to which hunks of beef have risen over the past century. Is it really possible to tell the whole story of steak within 320 pages as this new book purports to?

The answer is no - you would probably need a tome five times the size to properly cover off the subject matter - but that doesn’t mean that writer Tim Hayward has failed in his endeavour. Rather, with his latest book he tells the story of steak that most of us would consider comprehensive with the wit and passion for which Hayward is rightfully known - as anyone who follows his deliciously geeky food and cocktail Instagram posts will attest. Upon reading it from cover to cover - and you will want to, such is Hayward’s penmanship and delightful turn of phrase - there is a sense that you could go on Mastermind​ with steak as your specialist subject and not look like a chump.

Head to the cookbook section of any bookshop and you won’t be short of reading material dedicated to protein. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s definitive The River Cottage Meat Book​ has stood the test of time two decades on and more recent cookbooks from steakhouse group Hawksmoor (whose co-founder Will Beckett appears in Hayward’s book) and chef Paul Foster and his How to Cook Meat Properly​ have added worthwhile meat to the discussion about the cooking and preparation of meat. What, then, does Steak​ add to mix?

One thing is Hayward’s approach to the subject. While clearly an accomplished chef - he is co-owner of the excellent Fitzbillies Bakery in Cambridge - he is first and foremost a food writer, restaurant critic, and journalist, meaning he comes at his subject from a slightly more inquisitive and probing angle than a chef might. He also tackles the subject from the standpoint not as of a cook per se but as of a voracious eater and meat enthusiast, head filled with countless experiences of eating steak, good, bad, and indifferent, all of which adds to the narrative he spins. Steak​ is not about justifying how one chef, or one restaurant, sources and cooks its meat, but rather is an exploration of the myriad ways it can be sourced and cooked and what that means on the plate.

Take Hayward’s first question, the somewhat existential ‘what even is steak?’ In the opening pages he attempts to unpick where steak fits into the taxonomy of human consumption (his words), and why people love it so much, charting the rise of the steakhouse in the US and an increase in ‘steakhouse syndrome’, which is not as scary as it sounds.

From here Steak​ becomes encyclopaedic, with a run down on cattle breeds and US, Japanese, Korean and Argentinian beef before delving into the topic of slaughter, with Hayward inevitably getting his hands dirty with some butchery. Further chapters are dedicated to the cuts, including the lesser known spider, toro, and deckle, and the cooking process in which Hayward outlines his ‘five steak programme’ - cooking by time and temperature; introducing core temperature and resting; searing and oven finishing; sous vide; and reverse searing. Digest all of this and your steak knowledge will be hovering around geek level.

No cookbook would be complete without its recipes and in this regard Steak​ doesn’t disappoint. The classics - and little else - are well and truly ticked off, including tournedos, tartare, bistecca alla Fiorentina, carpetbagger steak, steak Diane, chateaubriand, tataki, veal Milanese, veal chop, and steak an eggs. One can even forgive his recipe for steak on a plank, a seemingly ridiculous method of cooking and serving meat but the logic of which is neatly explained by Hayward.

“[Steak] has a touch point of relevance for absolutely everybody,” Hayward said at the launch of his book at Hawksmoor’s Borough Market restaurant. “Whereas I thought when I started this [book] would be about city boys yelling and roaring about fine claret and expensive bleeding steaks, it’s not. It’s massively relevant as a touchstone, particularly in our own culture, and that just looks like something you can write a lot of words about.” He was true to his word.

Steak The Whole Story
Tim Hayward
Number of pages: 320
Must try recipe: Steak sandwich (which tips its hat to many traditions of cooking steak)
Publisher and price: Quadrille, £30
Publishing date: 23 May

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